Consider Amtrak's Acela service between New York City
and Washington, D.C. Those trains can take you from Washing-
ton's Union Station—just a few hundred yards from the Capi-
tol itself—to midtown Manhattan in just over two hours and 45
minutes. You'd be hard-pressed to make it any quicker by air—
you'd take a taxi from the Capitol to the airport, check in, go
through security, wait to board, and wait again to take off. After
the actual flight, it's another very long cab ride into Manhattan.
No wonder more than half of the people traveling between New
York and Washington are now doing so comfortably on the train.
Furthermore, when you add the cost of those two cab rides to the
airfare, the train is cheaper too.
The fact is, 300-400 miles is how far most of us travel most
often. That's certainly the case at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, one
of the busiest in the nation, where 30 to 40 percent of the arriv-
ing flights are from destinations 400 miles away or less. O'Hare
is not unique: A large number of flights in and out of most of
the major hub cities—Dallas-Forth Worth, New York City, Los
Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta, for example—are to and
from cities less than 400 miles away.
Chicago has been a major railroad center since day one. Pro-
ponents of high-speed rail have long argued that trains could
carry people between there and other nearby cities in the Mid-
west—Milwaukee, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Toledo,
Detroit, Cincinnati, and a host of smaller towns—faster, cheaper,
and safer than planes. They're already doing it in Europe, after
all. Alas, despite crowded skies around Chicago from air traffic
at O'Hare and Midway airports, there is still some talk about a
third major airport south of that city. The costs—billions and bil-
lions of dollars, thousands of acres of land, the displacement of
homes and businesses, and the inevitable impact on the environ-
ment—would be staggering.